A Student’s Perspective on the MD/MBA Degree

in Uncategorized
October 21st, 2011

Marcel Tam, MD/MBA Candidate

Marcel Tam, MD/MBA Candidate

The dual degree, MD/MBA is one exciting and growing element of the Health Sector Management Program.  It is designed to prepare medical students to become physician leaders, innovators, and agents of change and development within the health sector.  It equips them to go beyond direct clinical practice to also develop and lead systems of care and organizations of practice.

Dual degree students take a full year off from their medical training and spend it at the School of Management, gaining a comprehensive set of basic skills around business and management.   They also take part in focused  training in the health sector.  The summer following their coursework (or at another time, depending on their medical school schedule), they participate in a 400-week internship. They then return to medical school and finish with two additional courses in the health sector.

Marcel Tam, MD/MBA candidate, on why the dual-degree is key to both his career plan and medical care at large:

Now in the MBA portion of the five-year MD/MBA dual-degree at Boston University, I am preparing to fulfill my responsibility as a future Family Medicine doctor. I’ve come to believe that to do this, my medical school training alone is not enough.

“My medical school training alone is not enough.”

It is incumbent upon me to learn the management skills necessary to practice primary care effectively and efficiently using what will likely be new business models. These models of health care delivery will require teamwork, performance improvement processes, and financial decision-making among other leadership and management skills.

My Value Proposition

Some view the field of Primary Health Care as a dying profession. Primary care physicians are working more hours with less patient contact, more paperwork, lower job satisfaction, and less pay versus their specialist peers. As the U.S. General Accounting Office has pointed out, by 2020, the projected number of primary care practitioners is expected to fall short of the increasing need.

For medical students with increasing loans and other external stressors, practicing primary care can appear to be the worst option for pursuing their dream of positively impacting the health of their patients. Indeed, Family Medicine (a primary care-focused specialty) isn’t even included in a much-circulated unofficial guide to selecting a specialty for medical students… a virtual non-option. Yet, while it may appear to be a waning field for physicians, Primary Care is in fact one of the most exciting opportunities to create high-impact, disruptive innovation in health care.

“The physician’s pen remains the most powerful lever for change in the industry.”

The reasons for this opportunity are clear. There is a pressing need (ex. a growing population with chronic disease) and there is money available to help meet this need (16% of national GDP is spent on health care). But why hasn’t there been more change in health care? The health care industry is fragmented and misaligned. Attempts to improve the system have been limited by systems and policies that promote conflicting incentives for multiple powerful players with complex relationships and with inadequate outcomes metrics. In order to be successful, new solutions need to satisfy this complex mish-mash of forces, and that is extremely challenging.

Despite these limitations, however, recent innovations show that disruptive change is possible. Retail clinics, like the MinuteClinic, are an example of a value-adding business process that improves outcomes while reducing cost.  Qliance Medical Group, a direct primary care medical home spearheaded by physician Garrison Bliss, provides an expanded spectrum of affordable primary care services at a reduced cost while increasing the satisfaction of both patients and their care providers.

“I’m getting an MBA because I want to practice primary care the way it should be practiced.”

These innovations indicate that the patient-provider relationship is at the core of true systemic reform of health care. In fact, the physician’s pen remains the most powerful lever for change in the industry. Leaders like Dr. Bliss (Chief Medical Officer at Qliance Medical Group) and Dr. Andrew Sussman (President of MinuteClinic & an alumnus of the Boston University School of Management) show that physicians are still in an influential position to act as agents of change on behalf of patients.

That is why the knowledge, skills and behaviors that I am learning from my MBA coursework in organizational behavior, finance, strategy and more are essential components of my career development. Not because I want to be an administrator or because I want work in health care consulting. No. I am getting an MBA because I want to practice primary care the way it should be practiced: with the collaborative diligence and care necessary for maximizing health for individuals and for society. That is my value proposition.